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World

Belfast in turmoil as Brexit stokes tensions in Northern Ireland

  • Nationalist and unionist communities in Belfast are often separated by towering "peace walls" to guard against projectiles.
09 Apr 2021

BELFAST: Rioters waged a running battle with police in Belfast on Thursday night -- tossing petrol bombs, setting fires and dodging jets from water cannon as a week of unrest showed no sign of letting up.

Hundreds of boys and young men gathered from early evening in a western neighbourhood in the Northern Ireland capital, which has been riven by violence over Brexit and domestic politics.

Masked and in hooded tops, they hurled rocks, bricks and glass bottles at police barricades where riot officers formed ranks with armoured Land Rovers.

Petrol bombs burst into flames in the street and fireworks were aimed into police formations, exploding and smothering their lines in thick smoke.

Behind riot shields and with batons drawn, police drove back the surging crowds late into Thursday night, as locals peered out of their windows to witness the spectacle.

When one group tried to push a vandalised car into the police barricades, a lumbering water cannon forced them away with powerful spraying jets.

A police loudhailer warned crowds to disperse or face arrest.

"Force may be used," the female voice rang out.

Northern Ireland was the site of "The Troubles" sectarian conflict, which wound down in 1998 -- but Brexit has been partially blamed for igniting old tensions.

The unrest started last week in the pro-UK unionist community, where tensions are high because of new post-Brexit rules some feel are dividing the region from Britain.

But the pro-Ireland nationalist community has begun to respond in scenes like those of Thursday night.

Nationalist and unionist communities in Belfast are often separated by towering "peace walls" to guard against projectiles.

On Wednesday there were ugly scenes when warring groups from unionist and nationalist communities faced off at a gate in the peace wall between their neighbourhoods.

The doors are etched with a slogan reading: "There was never a good war or a bad peace."

But the gates were pried open and rioters traded missiles in vicious confrontations.